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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Poetry

Literary Madeleine: Sing a Song of Seasons

Sing a Song of SeasonsI believe this book belongs in every class­room, every home, and in every child’s life. It is a won­drous book to read, to look at, to mem­o­rize, and to talk about with the chil­dren around you. It is a Lit­er­ary Madeleine, scrump­tious in every way.

The full title is Sing a Song of Sea­sons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year, edit­ed by Fiona Water and illus­trat­ed by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non, it is a won­der. Can you tell I’ve fall­en in love?

Imag­ine in your class­room, or in your home, that you have a rit­u­al of read­ing this book each day at a cer­tain time. The chil­dren will look for­ward to it. There are 333 pages in this large-for­mat book. You’ll find a poem for each day. Some­times there is one poem on two pages and some­times there are three poems on one page. They are often short poems (mem­o­riz­able) and once in awhile there’s a longer poem. The poet­ry ranges from “Who Has Seen the Wind?,” by Christi­na Roset­ti (Jan­u­ary 17th), to “April Rain Song,” by Langston Hugh­es (April 4th), to “Squishy Words (to Be Said When Wet),” by Alis­tair Reid (August 4th), to “At Nine of the Night I Opened My Door,” by Clive Caus­ley (Decem­ber 24th), 

I love the poet­ry selec­tions but I mar­vel at the illus­tra­tions. They are two-page spreads, paint­ed by one artist, and each one is a reward for turn­ing the page. A new sub­ject! Paint­ed with a new palette of col­ors! And the poem for that day is reflect­ed beau­ti­ful­ly in the sea­son­al­ly appro­pri­ate paint­ing.

SING A SONG OF SEASONS. Text com­pi­la­tion copy­right © 2018 by Fiona Waters. Illus­tra­tions copy­right © 2018 by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the pub­lish­er, Can­dlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Kate Wil­son, the pub­lish­er of this book, writes this in her intro­duc­tion: “For my sev­enth birth­day, my par­ents gave me a book that–like this one–contained hun­dreds of poems. It was a small, fat book with­out pic­tures. At first I found it daunt­ing: with­out pic­tures, there was noth­ing to catch my eye, noth­ing to lead me into the book. But one rainy  day after school, I took it down and began to read. And that was it for me: I fell in love with poet­ry, with rhyme, with rhythm, with the way that poet­ry squashed big feel­ings, big thoughts, big things, into tiny box­es of bril­liance for the read­er to unpack. It became my favorite book. I have it still. It is stuffed with lit­tle slips of paper that I used to mark the poems I liked best. As I grew old­er, those poems changed: a poem that baf­fled and bored me when I was sev­en revealed itself to me years lat­er. I learned many of them by heart and could still recite them to you now.”

I had a book like that: Favorite Poems Old and New: Select­ed for Boys and Girls, by Helen Fer­ris. I have it still. It brought me to poet­ry, which I start­ed writ­ing when I was in third grade. I have a respect and love for poet­ry to this day. And isn’t that what we want for our chil­dren? A steady path to con­nect with the beau­ty of words and big thoughts?

Sing a Song of Seasons

SING A SONG OF SEASONS. Text com­pi­la­tion copy­right © 2018 by Fiona Waters. Illus­tra­tions copy­right © 2018 by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the pub­lish­er, Can­dlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

The book’s design is thought­ful. There is a shiny rib­bon to mark your place. There is a Table of Con­tents for the book, a Table of Con­tents for each sea­son, an index of poets, an index of poems, and an index of first lines! You can find your favorite poem again and again. 

As your child grows to love poet­ry, as they get old­er, remem­ber to sup­ple­ment this book with oth­er slim vol­umes of poet­ry such as If You Were the Moon by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, One Last Word: Wis­dom from the Harlem Renais­sance by Nik­ki Grimes, World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um, edit­ed by Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins, and Imag­ine by Juan Felipe Her­rera and Lau­ren Castil­lo. There are hun­dreds of won­der­ful books of poet­ry … but Sing a Song of Sea­sons will be a com­pelling door to that world.

Imag­ine each morn­ing in your class­room, pulling this book down from its spe­cial shelf, open­ing it to the day’s poem, show­ing your stu­dents the art for that day, and read­ing the poem out loud. If your stu­dents are old enough, per­haps a round-robin of chil­dren would read the day’s poem.

At home, what bet­ter way to start or end each day than with a few moments of qui­et while you read the book togeth­er?

Sing a Song of Seasons

SING A SONG OF SEASONS. Text com­pi­la­tion copy­right © 2018 by Fiona Waters. Illus­tra­tions copy­right © 2018 by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the pub­lish­er, Can­dlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Of course, you will open the book imme­di­ate­ly to find your birth­day poem and anniver­sary poem. Oak trees and acorns fig­ure large in our family’s life. We were delight­ed to find that the two-page illus­tra­tion for our anniver­sary is filled with oak leaves and acorns! Did I men­tion that I am in love with this book? You will be, too.

 

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Lucille Clifton: All About Love

Lucille Clifton, poet and author

Lucille Clifton, poet and author

Poet Lucille Clifton in a 1998 inter­view “Doing What You Will Do,” pub­lished in Sleep­ing with One Eye Open: Women Writ­ers and the Art of Sur­vival, said, “I think the oral tra­di­tion is the one which is most inter­est­ing to me and the voice in which I like to speak.” Asked about the most impor­tant aspect of her craft, she answered, “For me, sound … sound, the music of a poem, the feel­ing are most impor­tant. I can feel what I can hear.”

Clifton was a poet, but as any writer or read­er or hear­er of pic­ture books knows, pic­ture books and poet­ry are kin. Both are meant to be read out loud, savored by the ear and by the tongue.  Both depend on sound, on image, on emo­tion. Every word mat­ters in a poem and in a pic­ture book. So is it any won­der that Lucille Clifton, amaz­ing poet, was also a con­sum­mate pic­ture book writer?

Some of the Days of Everett Anderson

illus­trat­ed by Eva­line Ness

Clifton’s sto­ries hon­or both the every­day lives and also the emo­tion­al lives of chil­dren. Eight of her pic­ture books are about Everett Ander­son, a fic­tion­al African-Amer­i­can boy with a sin­gle moth­er who lives in a city apart­ment, a boy so real to read­ers that chil­dren wrote him let­ters. Some of the Days of Everett Ander­son intro­duces us to Everett Ander­son and takes us through his week, with themes of miss­ing dad­dy, of mama need­ing to work, of a boy who real­izes being afraid of the dark would mean being afraid of the peo­ple he loves and even afraid of him­self.

Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming

illus­trat­ed by Eva­line Ness; a lat­er edi­tion was illus­trat­ed by Jan Spivey Gilchrist

Everett Anderson’s Christ­mas Com­ing joy­ful­ly cel­e­brates a city Christ­mas through the days of expec­ta­tion and excite­ment for a boy who lives “In 14A  … between the snow that falls on down­er lives.” He thinks about what he would want if his Dad­dy was here, and how he should try hard­er to be good, and how boys with lots of presents have to spend the whole Christ­mas day open­ing them and nev­er have fun. When a tree blooms with col­or in his apart­ment, and Everett, we see from the art, gets a drum for Christ­mas, Everett Ander­son sees how “our Christ­mas bounces off the sky and shines on all the down­er ones.”

Everett Anderson's Year

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

Everett’s Anderson’s Year takes Everett Ander­son from Jan­u­ary when his Mama tells him to walk tall in the world through the months and events of Everett’s Anderson’s year: wait­ing for Mama to come home from work, want­i­ng to make Amer­i­ca a birth­day cake except the sug­ar is almost gone and he will have to wait until pay­day to buy more, miss­ing his Dad­dy wher­ev­er he is, not under­stand­ing why he has to go back to school again, and real­iz­ing, at the end of the year

It’s just about love,”
his Mama smiles.
“It’s all about Love and
you know about that.”

Everett Anderson's Friend

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

With Everett Anderson’s Friend his world expands. A new neigh­bor in 13A turns out to be a girl who can out­run and out­play Everett at ball, and he isn’t inter­est­ed in being friends. Then one day he locks him­self out of his apart­ment, and Maria invites him in to 13A where her moth­er “makes lit­tle pies called Tacos, calls lit­tle boys Mucha­chos, and likes to thank the Dios.” Everett real­izes he and Maria can be friends even if she wins at ball. “And the friends we find are full of sur­pris­es Everett Ander­son real­izes.” A sub­tle thread through­out the sto­ry is Everett Ander­son miss­ing his father, who if he were there when Everett locks him­self out, would make peanut but­ter and jel­ly for him and not be mad at all. We don’t know where Everett’s dad­dy is, but we feel his yearn­ing for his father even as Everett dis­cov­ers a new friend. 

Everett Anderson's 1-2-3

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

His world expands again in Everett Anderson’s 1−2−3 when Everett Anderson’s mama and a new neigh­bor, Mr. Per­ry, hit it off. One can be fun, Everett thinks, but one can be lone­ly if Mama is busy talk­ing with the new neigh­bor. Everett likes just the two of them, he and Mama. Mama tells Everett that while she miss­es his dad­dy two can be lonely–and things do go on. Everett thinks he can get used to being three, but the sto­ry refus­es a pat solu­tion. 

One can be lone­ly and One can be fun, and
Two can be awful or per­fect for some, and
Three can be crowd­ed or can be just right or
Even too many, you have to decide.
Mr. Per­ry and Everett Ander­son too
Know the num­ber you need
Is the num­ber for you. 

Everett Anderson's Goodbye

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

In Everett Anderson’s Good­bye we learn that Everett’s father has died. The spare and ten­der sto­ry takes Everett through the five stages of grief list­ed at the begin­ning of the book:  denial, anger, bar­gain­ing, depres­sion and, after a while, accep­tance. In the begin­ning Everett Ander­son holds his mama’s hand and dreams of “just Dad­dy, Dad­dy for­ev­er and ever.” An angry Everett declares he doesn’t love any­body, or any­thing, and a bar­gain­ing Everett promis­es to learn his nine times nine and nev­er sleep late or gob­ble his bread if Dad­dy can be alive again. Everett can’t even sleep because “the hurt is too deep.” After some time pass­es Everett comes to accep­tance of his daddy’s death and says, “I knew my dad­dy loved me through and through, and what­ev­er hap­pens when peo­ple die, love doesn’t stop, and nei­ther will I.”

Everett Anderson's Nine Month Long

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

The library’s copy of Everett Anderson’s Nine Month Long has a splen­did sur­prise on the title page: Lucille Clifton’s sig­na­ture and the inscrip­tion, For Ian—Joy! 281. The sto­ry tells about Everett deal­ing with a com­ing new baby in the fam­i­ly and ten­der­ly shows his feel­ings, from antic­i­pa­tion to feel­ing left out. Mr. Per­ry, who is now Everett’s step­fa­ther, helps Everett know that his mama

… is still the same
Mama who loves you what­ev­er her name
and what­ev­er oth­er sis­ter or broth­er
you know you are her
spe­cial one,
her first­born Everett Ander­son.

One of the Problems of Ann Grifalconi

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

Over the course of these sto­ries Everett Ander­son grows in empa­thy and under­stand­ing. In the last book One of the Prob­lems of Everett Ander­son he wor­ries  about what to do when a friend shows up every day “with a scar or a bruise or a mark on his leg” and has the “sad­dest sad­dest face like he was lost in the loneli­est place.”  When Everett tells Mama he doesn’t know how to help his friend Greg, she lis­tens and hugs him hard and holds his hand. 

and Everett tries to under­stand
that one of the things he can do right now
is lis­ten to Greg and hug and hold
his friend, and now that Mama is told,
some­thing will hap­pen for Greg that is new.

Some­times the lit­tle things that you do
make a dif­fer­ence.
Everett Ander­son hopes that’s true.

Clifton’s sto­ries rec­og­nize that not all prob­lems are eas­i­ly solved, but in the del­i­cate strength of this telling, Everett learns that doing lit­tle things might make a dif­fer­ence for his friend. We hope so, too.

From 1970 until her death in 2010 Lucille Clifton made poet­ry of every­day lives and hearts. Read some of the books of Lucille Clifton. Read them all.

They’re all about love, and we know about that.

P.S. Anoth­er month we want to share some of the oth­er won­der­ful children’s books by Lucille Clifton.

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Pomelo Books

Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

What do a uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor from Dal­las and a lawyer from Prince­ton have in com­mon?

Both are pas­sion­ate about poet­ry, specif­i­cal­ly, poet­ry in the class­room for every­one, every­day, and about any­thing, even alge­bra. Sylvia Vardell, pro­fes­sor and author of edu­ca­tion­al books for teach­ers, and Janet Wong, lawyer and author of sev­er­al dozen books for chil­dren, com­bined their knowl­edge and poet­ry pas­sion and cre­at­ed Pome­lo Books. Their goal was to pub­lish books that make poet­ry avail­able and accessible—and fun—in the class­room.

Pet CrazyEach book (twelve books so far and more on the way) has a unique focus. The books in The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy series offer a vari­ety of verse and also short edu­ca­tion­al guides, resources, “Take 5 lessons,” and oth­er appli­ca­tions that cross cur­ricu­lum lines. Each verse entry in the Poet­ry Fri­day Pow­er Book series pro­vides white space for reluc­tant writ­ers, prompts for writ­ing, and sug­ges­tions of places where stu­dents can sub­mit their own poems for pub­li­ca­tion.

In their own words, Pome­lo Books are unique books “that will puck­er your lips, reduce cho­les­terol, cure scurvy, curb glob­al warm­ing, and make young peo­ple hap­py while teach­ing them lots.”

What is most reward­ing about being a pub­lish­er?

CelebrationsSylvia Vardell: There have been so many rewards in this ven­ture: col­lab­o­rat­ing with the ener­getic Janet Wong and 100+ poets across the globe, see­ing a project come to fruit in print, and watch­ing teach­ers thumb through the book and say, “Yes, I can DO this!”

But prob­a­bly my favorite thing is how much I have learned along the way! I love try­ing new things and cre­at­ing Pome­lo Books has pushed me to try many, many new things such as the ins and outs of soft­ware pro­grams, exper­i­ment­ing with book design, cre­at­ing pro­mo­tion­al graph­ics, and pre­sent­ing to all kinds of audi­ences. And that doesn’t even include all the new things I’ve learned about poet­ry

Who do you hope is read­ing and talk­ing about your books?

Janet Wong: Recent­ly Sylvia and I have been booked at sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty con­fer­ences to speak to pre-ser­vice teach­ers, as well as recent grads. This, to me, is the ide­al audi­ence: new teach­ers who are eager to find their own best ways of reach­ing all kinds of kids. They under­stand that time is tight, and a five-minute poet­ry les­son can be used to teach mul­ti­ple con­tent areas. It’s so great to see them snap­ping tons of pho­tos of Sylvia’s Pow­er­Point slides!

Tell us about a few of your recent pub­li­ca­tions and why they are unique.

The Poetry of ScienceJanet Wong: One of the most dis­tinc­tive things about our books in The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy series is the sheer size of them: in 4 books (our orig­i­nal K-5 book, the Mid­dle School book, the Sci­ence book, and the Cel­e­bra­tions book) we have 700+ poems by 150 poets. That’s a whole lot of diver­si­ty (of all kinds)—diverse voic­es, diverse top­ics, and diverse approach­es.

And in our recent Poet­ry Fri­day Pow­er Book series (You Just Wait, Here We Go, and Pet Crazy), we’re pro­vid­ing Pow­er­Packs that are filled with pre-writ­ing activ­i­ties, men­tor poems, and writ­ing prompts—plus the poems, woven togeth­er, tell a sto­ry, Plus there are exten­sive back mat­ter resources on where kids can get pub­lished and a whole lot more. Our mot­to is “Pome­lo Books = Poet­ry Plus!” and we’re doing our best to live up to it!

As an edu­ca­tor, what do your books add to my stu­dents’ class­room expe­ri­ence?

Here We GoSylvia Vardell: This is where Pome­lo Books is unique. As Janet point­ed out, we are so proud to fea­ture 700+ poems by 150 poets in our var­i­ous antholo­gies, but added to that are “Take 5” activ­i­ties or mini-lessons for every sin­gle one of those 700+ poems. We pro­vide the short­cut that a busy teacher can use to pause, share a poem, and pro­vide a tiny lit­er­a­cy les­son that is engag­ing and mean­ing­ful. For the busy edu­ca­tor, our books are very search­able and prac­ti­cal, offer­ing poems on top­ics that are rel­e­vant to children’s lives and con­nect­ed with cur­ric­u­lar areas. We make it easy for the novice teacher to begin as well as for the expe­ri­enced edu­ca­tor to add vari­ety and cre­ativ­i­ty to poem shar­ing. 

Pome­lo Books web­site

Pome­lo Books twelve pub­li­ca­tions are:

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy (K-5 Com­mon Core)

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy (K-5 TEKS)

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Mid­dle School (Com­mon Core)

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Mid­dle School (TEKS)

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Sci­ence (K-5 Teacher/Librarian Edi­tion)

The Poet­ry of Sci­ence: The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Sci­ence for Kids

The TEKS Guide to The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Sci­ence

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Cel­e­bra­tions (Teacher/Librarian Edi­tion)

The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Cel­e­bra­tions (Children’s Edi­tion)

You Just Wait: A Poet­ry Fri­day Pow­er Book

Here We Go: A Poet­ry Fri­day Pow­er Book

Pet Crazy: A Poet­ry Fri­day Pow­er Book

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Dearie Darling Cuddle Hug: A Tribute to Wendy Watson

Father Fox's PennyrhymesWhen our chil­dren were young we both spent many hours with them pour­ing over Wendy Wat­son’s illus­tra­tions for her sis­ter Clyde’s rhymes in Father Fox’s Pen­nyrhymes and delight­ing in the sounds and the silli­ness of the rhymes them­selves. We felt as though we had lost a per­son­al friend when Wendy Wat­son died, even though we had nev­er met her.

Here’s just one pen­nyrhyme:

Mis­ter Lis­ter sassed his sis­ter
Mar­ried his wife ‘cause he couldn’t resist her,
Three plus four times two he kissed her:
How many times is that, dear sis­ter?

The illus­tra­tions wel­comed us into Father Fox’s fam­i­ly, a large rol­lick­ing cre­ative crew in a house filled with writ­ing, art, music, and chil­dren, much like the Wat­son fam­i­ly. Clyde has said that their father was the orig­i­nal Father Fox, and Wendy wrote of the art, “Many fox­es wear favorite gar­ments that still hang in clos­ets in Put­ney; and spe­cial fam­i­ly occu­pa­tions and times of the year and occa­sions are in almost every poem and pic­ture.” In the pic­tures (and per­haps in the clos­ets) the clothes are patched show­ing both wear and care.

Small sto­ries unfold in the illus­tra­tions.

You might read,

Som­er­sault & Pep­per-upper
Sim­mer down and eat your sup­per,
Arti­chokes & Mus­tard Pick­le
Two for a dime or six for a nick­el.

Mean­while in four pan­els on a dou­ble-page spread, a horse gal­lops by draw­ing a coach piled high with bun­dles, a fid­dle case, and a young fox rid­ing on top. The coach hits a bump, the salt shak­er falls out the win­dow, a bowl of sup­per falls on the coach dri­ver, and, leav­ing bits and pieces behind, the coach dri­ves on.

Wendy WatsonWhen Wendy had chil­dren of her own she often hid famil­iar things in her art that only they would know, “like dish­es that we owned or fur­ni­ture.”

Our friend Liza Ketchum, who knew Wendy very well, said that the time she spent on each draw­ing was incred­i­ble. In a draw­ing of a coun­try store you can find boots, slip­pers, pots, pans, paint­brush­es, pen­ny can­dy, even bolts of fab­ric and a horse col­lar.

 “Wendy had a throaty laugh that was just won­der­ful,” Liza told us, “and she cared so much about every­thing. When she could not take her cat on an air­plane, she drove cross-coun­try with her cat instead.”

Bedtime BunniesWendy wrote and illus­trat­ed twen­ty-one books for chil­dren and illus­trat­ed over six­ty books by oth­er authors. We could say so much more about so many of her books that we love, (you can read a list and descrip­tions of her pub­lished books), but we have to share one more of our favorites, Bed­time Bun­nies. The bun­ny par­ents call to five lit­tle bun­nies, “Bed­time, bun­nies.” The heart of this spar­e­ly writ­ten book is verbs, four to a spread—skip, scam­per, scur­ry, hop—while the art shows the bun­nies com­ing in for the night, hav­ing sup­per, brush­ing their teeth—Squirt Scrub Splut­ter Spit—taking a bath, get­ting into their paja­mas, hear­ing a sto­ry, get­ting into bed—climb bounce jump thump, and get­ting tucked in—Dearie Dar­ling Cud­dle Hug. The book ends with “Good­night, Bun­nies.”

The illus­tra­tions are spare but full of expres­sion and love, and the col­or palette is soft and warm, with yel­lows, ros­es, green, blues. In each of the live­ly pic­tures the lit­tlest bun­ny does things in their unique style. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this bun­ny fam­i­ly, or Father Fox’s fam­i­ly? It’s as if Wendy Wat­son is call­ing to us—Dearie Dar­ling Cud­dle Hug. Each time we open one of her books, we are invit­ed in to her warm cir­cle of fam­i­ly. And that will nev­er change.

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With My Hands

Some­times, a book comes across my desk that sparkles like a gem, attract­ing my atten­tion, insist­ing that I stop what I’m doing and read it. This hap­pened when With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things arrived last week. I thought I’d take a peek. Next thing you know, I was clos­ing the last page of the book, sigh­ing with con­tent­ment. And then I knew I had to read the book all over again.

I’ve been inter­est­ed in mak­ing things since I can first remem­ber. Whether I was cre­at­ing a peg­board town with my Playskool set or help­ing my grand­moth­er make pie crust or giv­ing my grand­fa­ther a hand in his shop, or sewing small items to dec­o­rate my Bar­bie doll house … I still feel best when my hands, mind, and heart are busy. When cre­ativ­i­ty is awake and sat­is­fied.

This book will serve as inspi­ra­tion, recog­ni­tion, and encour­age­ment. It will awak­en a dor­mant mak­er and help a per­sis­tent mak­er sit up and feel good about what they do.

VanDerwater’s poet­ry is under­stand­able. It reads out loud well. It is often brief. Her word choice is pal­pa­ble … I find myself cheer­ing her selec­tions.

The illus­tra­tions by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er are bril­liant. From the first spread, “Mak­er,” with the art based on fin­ger­prints (I can do that!) and a hill­side of clover, to the last spread “Shad­ow Show,” with its exam­ple of a shad­ow pup­pet that echoes spi­rals, the inspi­ra­tion for art-mak­ing is full of detail and sub­tle ideas to launch your own work. I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy those spreads where two dis­parate poems are unit­ed by the illus­tra­tions. That pro­vides inspi­ra­tion, too!

My excite­ment lev­el after read­ing this book was high. Much like the Olympics cre­ate pos­si­bil­i­ties in young minds, this book encour­ages the can-do spir­it.

Poet­ry? Give the dif­fer­ent forms a try. Craft with words. Origa­mi? Leaf pic­tures? Mak­ing a piña­ta? Tie-dying? Soap carv­ing? The sub­tle humor in VanDerwater’s poet­ry and the John­son Fanch­ers’ art keeps read­ers’ spir­its high.

Para­chute

I cut a para­chute from plas­tic
tied my guy on with elas­tic
threw him from a win­dow (dras­tic)
watched him drift to earth—fantastic!”

The Army Guy tied to the plas­tic para­chute, drift­ing down to the boat fea­tured in the next poem … this is the kind of poet­ry every­one can enjoy, the inspi­ra­tion every­one needs.

With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things
writ­ten by Amy Lud­wig Van­Der­wa­ter
illus­trat­ed by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er
Clar­i­on Books, March 27, 2018
978–0544313408

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Read Out Loud for Easter

As you pre­pare to cel­e­brate East­er, we encour­age you to include books in your cel­e­bra­tion. A tra­di­tion of read­ing out loud before East­er din­ner, after East­er din­ner, as you awak­en on East­er morn­ing … per­haps each day dur­ing Holy Week? Here are a few gems we believe you and your fam­i­ly will trea­sure. Hap­py East­er!

At Jerusalem's Gate  

At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems of East­er
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes, illus­trat­ed by David Framp­ton
Eerd­mans Books for Young Read­ers, 2005

There are twen­ty-two free-form poems in this book, each from the point of view of a wit­ness to the events of the cru­ci­fix­ion and res­ur­rec­tion of Jesus Christ. Each poem could be read by a dif­fer­ent fam­i­ly mem­ber or the poems could be read sep­a­rate­ly through­out the East­er week­end. The wood­cut illus­tra­tions will engen­der con­ver­sa­tions about the style, tech­nique, and details.

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes

 

The Coun­try Bun­ny and the Lit­tle Gold Shoes
writ­ten by Du Bose Hey­ward, illus­trat­ed by Mar­jorie Flack
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1939

Lit­tle Cot­ton­tail Moth­er is rais­ing 21 chil­dren, but it’s her dream to become the East­er Bun­ny. As she assigns her chil­dren chores and teach­es them life’s lessons, she gains con­fi­dence to audi­tion for the job of one of the five East­er Bun­nies who deliv­er eggs and bas­kets on East­er Sun­day. It’s a sweet sto­ry still, near­ly 80 years after it was first pub­lished. The bright­ly col­ored illus­tra­tions are mem­o­ry-mak­ing for new gen­er­a­tions of read­ers.

The Easter Story  

The East­er Sto­ry
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Wild­smith
Alfred A. Knopf, 1994

The events of Holy Week, the Last Sup­per, the cru­ci­fix­ion, and the Res­ur­rec­tion, are recount­ed through the eyes of the lit­tle don­key that car­ried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sun­day. With Wildsmith’s dis­tinc­tive illus­tra­tions, this book has been pub­lished in many edi­tions and many lan­guages. A good read-aloud book to add to your East­er book­shelf.

Egg  

Egg
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Kevin Henkes
Green­wil­low Books, 2017

Four eggs, each a dif­fer­ent col­or, hatch (one doesn’t) and the chicks set off—and return for the unhatched egg. When the egg hatch­es, there’s a sur­prise! When the book ends, there’s anoth­er sur­prise! This is a book about friend­ship and grow­ing up, just right for read­ing out loud and for emerg­ing read­ers to read on their own. With sim­ple lines and appeal­ing col­ors, the illus­tra­tions are irre­sistible.

The Golden Egg Book  

The Gold­en Egg Book
writ­ten by Mar­garet Wise Brown, illus­trat­ed by Leonard Weis­gard
Gold­en Books, 1947

A true clas­sic among East­er books, a small bun­ny finds a blue egg. He can hear some­thing mov­ing around inside so he con­jec­tures what it might be. As the bun­ny tries to open the egg, he wears out and falls asleep. Only then does the young duck­ling emerge from the egg. With rich­ly col­ored illus­tra­tions from the mas­ter­ful Leonard Weis­gard, this is a trea­sured book for many chil­dren and fam­i­lies.

Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg  

Simon of Cyrene and the Leg­end of the East­er Egg
writ­ten by Ter­ri DeGezelle, illus­trat­ed by Gab­hor Uto­mo
Pauline Books & Media, 2017

Based on a few lines about the leg­end of Simon of Cyrene that the author found while research­ing, this book brings to life the expe­ri­ence of the cru­ci­fix­ion and res­ur­rec­tion of Jesus Christ, as told through the per­spec­tive of Simon. He takes eggs to Jerusalem to sell for Passover when he becomes caught up in the pro­ces­sion fol­low­ing Jesus as he car­ries his cross to Cal­vary. As Jesus stum­bles and falls, a Roman sol­dier forces Simon to bear the cross instead. Told with a live­ly nar­ra­tive and bright­ly col­ored, sat­is­fy­ing illus­tra­tions, this is a good sto­ry to choose for read-alouds, open­ing up an oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss the many aspects of the East­er sto­ry.

Story of Easter  

Sto­ry of East­er
writ­ten by Aileen Fish­er, illus­trat­ed by Ste­fano Vitale
Harper­Collins, 1997

With an infor­ma­tive text and glo­ri­ous illus­tra­tions, this book explains both how and why peo­ple all over the world cel­e­brate East­er. It tells the bib­li­cal sto­ry of Jesus’ Res­ur­rec­tion and then describes how peo­ple hon­or this day and the ori­gins of these tra­di­tions. Hands-on activ­i­ties help draw chil­dren into the spir­it of this joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion of rebirth.

Story of the Easter Bunny  

Sto­ry of the East­er Bun­ny
writ­ten by Kather­ine Tegen, illus­trat­ed by Sal­ly Anne Lam­bert Harper­Collins, 2005

Most peo­ple know about the East­er Bun­ny, but how did the East­er Bun­ny get his job and how does he accom­plish the dis­tri­b­u­tion of so many col­or­ful eggs each East­er? It all began in a small cot­tage with an old cou­ple who dye the eggs and weave the bas­kets. One East­er, they sleep in and it’s their pet white rabbit’s deci­sion to deliv­er the eggs and choco­late, there­by start­ing a tra­di­tion. Told in a mat­ter-of-fact style with appeal­ing, detailed illus­tra­tions, this is a good addi­tion to your East­er tra­di­tion.

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Behind the Poem, “What She Asked”

one of Virginia’s many pop­u­lar books for upper mid­dle grade and teen read­ers

Lis­ten to Virginia’s poem, “What She Asked,” on Poet­ry Mosa­ic, the April 7th entry, and then read her descrip­tion of the real-life event behind the poem.

In a rur­al Ore­gon high school where I taught Eng­lish more than 20 years ago, we had big teach­ing areas sep­a­rat­ed by screen-wall things, but they came nowhere near reach­ing the high ceil­ing, because a few years ear­li­er the design of the school had been to have a giant Resource Cen­ter and Library, and teach­ers and groups of stu­dents would ide­al­ly meet in sec­tions of the mas­sive room, and that would be school. Didn’t turn out that way (of course): Acoustics were the main prob­lem, but also the con­tin­u­ous human traf­fic through, com­ing and going in the Library sec­tion. So the dividers arrived, and we had some­what dis­crete class areas, but not real­ly. If the neigh­bor­ing class area was noisy, focus and con­cen­tra­tion were dif­fi­cult. In one or two peri­ods of the day, my area’s near­est neigh­bor was Human Health and Sex­u­al­i­ty, and we who were study­ing fic­tion heard “and the con­doms don’t always work,” etc.

What She Asked,” is includ­ing in this poet­ry anthol­o­gy, pub­lished by Pome­lo Books, 2016

There were the occa­sion­al paper air­planes. One or two per week, maybe. 

One after­noon, in the sleepy after-lunch peri­od, I whis­per­ing­ly asked my class (high school juniors, maybe some sopho­mores) to make paper air­planes and we would send them, on sig­nal, over the wall to Human Health and Sex­u­al­i­ty.

Can we make more than one?” “Sure! As many as you can fly all at once,” said I. I insist­ed that they under­stand that only at my sig­nal would the fleet of air­planes have the desired effect of simul­tane­ity. I, too, made one paper air­plane.

On my own per­son­al count of 3, it worked. I think we must have sent over 40+ air­planes into the next class. Great fun. The teacher had a fine sense of humor (her fields were Biol­o­gy and Ski Coach­ing) and she liked the dra­mat­ic moment of it. Of course Human Health and Sex­u­al­i­ty sent the planes back, but I sup­pose we won because we had done it first. And simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.

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Merna Ann Hecht and Our Table of Memories

Merna Ann Hecht

Mer­na Ann Hecht

When one poet, Mer­na Ann Hecht, and one edu­ca­tor, Car­rie Stradley, observed their com­mu­ni­ty, their schools, their stu­dents, and real­ized that a pletho­ra of life expe­ri­ences sur­round­ed them, they put their teach­ing and their hearts togeth­er to cre­ate The Sto­ries of Arrival: Refugee and Immi­grant Youth Voic­es Poet­ry Project at Fos­ter High School, in Tuk­wila, Wash­ing­ton.

These weren’t typ­i­cal high school sto­ries. Instead, these stu­dents have expe­ri­ences of leav­ing their homes, their friends, their schools, their coun­tries … to emi­grate to Amer­i­ca, where life is often astound­ing­ly dif­fer­ent.

Encour­ag­ing these Eng­lish Lan­guage Learn­ing stu­dents, more than 240 of them over the past six years from 30 coun­tries, to com­mu­ni­cate their sto­ries through poet­ry helps to empow­er them to find their voic­es and move con­fi­dent­ly into their cho­sen futures (a para­phrase of the project’s mis­sion).

Stories of Our Arrival

Com­bine this project with anoth­er, Project Feast, and you have not only a cook­book of world­wide appeal but a book of poet­ry that is often eye-open­ing, com­pas­sion­ate, and heartrend­ing. A recipe for under­stand­ing. A taste of the mem­o­ries, trav­els, and long­ing behind the poets’ words.

Togeth­er with their part­ners The Insti­tute for Poet­ic Med­i­cine (Palo Alto, CA), the Jack Straw Cul­tur­al Cen­ter (Seat­tle, WA), and Chatwin Books (Seat­tle, WA), these two women and their projects have cre­at­ed Our Table of Mem­o­ries: Food & Poet­ry of Spir­it, Home­land & Tra­di­tion. It’s a beau­ti­ful book, part poet­ry by high school stu­dents, part recipes from the tra­di­tion­al cooks from their coun­tries, and part art with illus­tra­tions by Mor­gan Wright, a recent col­lege grad­u­ate, new­ly enrolled in New York City’s Bank Street Col­lege to pur­sue her Mas­ter of Arts in teach­ing.

By pub­lish­ing this inter­view with Mer­na Hecht, it is the hope of Bookol­o­gy’s edi­tors that you will be inspired to con­sid­er a pro­gram like this in your own com­mu­ni­ty. Feel free to con­tact Mer­na with your ques­tions.

  Can you tell us a bit about your life, in par­tic­u­lar what pulled you toward poet­ry?

 There is not a moment I can recall when I wasn’t pulled toward poet­ry. I first heard the incan­ta­to­ry rhythms of poems from my grand­fa­ther who gave beau­ti­ful, mem­o­rized recita­tions of Longfel­low and John Green­leaf Whit­ti­er. I think it was sec­ond grade when I began writ­ing rhymed poems. Those child­hood poems were shaped by what then seemed the mag­ic of the nat­ur­al world. Notic­ing details of bugs, petals, leaves, cracks in the side­walks on my way to and from school often made me late. At the time it seemed like a secret world. Now I think that ear­ly impulse for close obser­va­tion and a deeply pri­vate inner world have shaped the poet I’ve become. I have always turned toward poet­ry to nour­ish my spir­it. As a young woman, I began to read many dif­fer­ent poets who spoke to me, chal­lenged me, pro­voked me and opened my eyes and heart to the beau­ty and suf­fer­ing of the world; I’ve not stopped turn­ing these pages. Poet­ry is the place where I find a well­spring for expres­sion of what seems most ten­der, most true and most unsayable. 

How did you find your way to teach­ing?

By a some­what gnarled and twist­ed path and I’m so glad I got there! I was a reg­is­tered nurse by the age of 21 and worked for five years as a pedi­atric nurse. I usu­al­ly car­ried fin­ger pup­pets in my pock­ets and offered impromp­tu sto­ried pup­pet shows at children’s bed­sides. Then came a real­iza­tion that I much pre­ferred the sto­ry­telling and pup­pets to the nurs­ing! “The rest is his­to­ry,” from work­ing with mid­wives on the Nava­ho reser­va­tion, to jaunt­ing about as a pup­peteer and poet in the schools in rur­al Ida­ho, to earn­ing a Mas­ters Degree as a children’s librar­i­an. Under the tute­lage of mas­ter sto­ry­teller, Pro­fes­sor Spencer Shaw at the Uni­ver­si­ty of WA, I fell in love with the art and craft of tale-spin­ning. Fast for­ward to work­ing as a children’s librar­i­an for Seat­tle Pub­lic Library to my first for­mal teach­ing job in a pro­gres­sive teacher cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram and onward to becom­ing a teach­ing artist and a uni­ver­si­ty lec­tur­er.

You’re nation­al­ly known as a sto­ry­teller. In 2008, the Nation­al Sto­ry­telling Net­work pre­sent­ed you with their Brim­stone Award for Applied Sto­ry­telling, with which you cre­at­ed a pilot pro­gram as a poet and sto­ry­teller at Bridges: A Cen­ter for Griev­ing Chil­dren in Taco­ma. Can you tell us about applied sto­ry­telling? What does that mean and how do your sto­ries work toward that spe­cif­ic appli­ca­tion?

These days, sto­ry­tellers show up in many places: deten­tion cen­ters, hos­pi­tals, war torn coun­tries at cen­ters for young peo­ple in trau­ma and drug rehab facil­i­ties for teens. These racon­teurs bring the age old plea­sure of lis­ten­ing to a tale well told. This allows young peo­ple (and all of us) to tem­porar­i­ly walk in some­one else’s shoes; it sparks the imag­i­na­tion to life. Through ancient pat­terns of myth and folk­tales sto­ries can allow a trust in pos­si­bil­i­ties to take hold. To apply sto­ry­telling in set­tings for young peo­ple and adults who have expe­ri­enced loss or trau­ma helps cre­ate safe space and gath­er­ing places where deep lis­ten­ing can occur. There are uni­ver­sal truths in sto­ries from all cul­tures. Many sto­ries reflect the inevitabil­i­ty of loss in human life and they speak to our inter­con­nect­ed­ness to each oth­er, to ani­mals, trees, the moon, the stars and to mys­ter­ies beyond us. In this way sto­ries can ease a sense of iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness. Find­ing the right sto­ry for a sit­u­a­tion, a group, or an indi­vid­ual is part of apply­ing sto­ry­telling to spe­cial set­tings and using sto­ries to help oth­ers trust that they can over­come obsta­cles and find their inner strength and courage.

What drew you toward work­ing with refugee and immi­grant chil­dren?

The short answer is that these young peo­ple are my teach­ers! Their deter­mi­na­tion to suc­ceed in high school, con­tin­ue on to col­lege and con­tribute to this coun­try and/or to return to their home­land to help oth­ers inspires me and gives me hope. They dream of becom­ing doc­tors, nurs­es, peace-mak­ers, envi­ron­men­tal­ists, actors, pilots and they do not bemoan the dif­fi­cul­ties they have expe­ri­enced at such a young age. Loss of fam­i­ly mem­bers, life in refugee camps, forced migra­tions, lack of enough food, health care, edu­ca­tion and still they are mod­el cit­i­zens. They are young peo­ple who are hope­ful, curi­ous, and deeply kind who wish to help cre­ate a more peace­ful, humane world.

Stories of Our Arrival poets

The Sto­ries of Our Arrival poets. Edu­ca­tors Car­rie Stradley (front row, left) and Mer­na Hecht (front row, sec­ond from right) feel priv­i­leged to have worked with more than 240 stu­dents over the past six years from 30 coun­tries.

You’re an organ­ic gar­den­er with respect for food tra­di­tions. How did this inspire you for Project Feast and how did the idea of the cook­book, Our Table of Mem­o­ries, with poet­ry and illus­tra­tions come into being?

Our Table of MemoriesWhen I heard about Project Feast and found that it was locat­ed with­in a mile of the school my idea for a col­lab­o­ra­tion sprang in part from years of “hands on” inten­sive gar­den­ing and cook­ing and from a pas­sion for explor­ing dif­fer­ent ways peo­ple across the globe pre­pare and share food. This love of cross cul­tur­al food is some­thing Car­rie and I share. When she heard the idea for col­lab­o­rat­ing with Project Feast her eyes lit up with a “yes!” We both rec­og­nize that when peo­ple leave their home­lands, a deep sense of home remains with them, in part, with eat­ing and grow­ing the foods of their cul­tures. We felt that a food-themed project would gen­er­ate a rich out­pour­ing of poems. Giv­en that food and poet­ry both speak lan­guages of fla­vor, scent, spice, tex­ture, and col­or we want­ed to include illus­tra­tions that would reflect the sen­so­ry feel of the poems—to cre­ate a pre­sen­ta­tion much like a mem­o­rable meal which the eye feasts upon before the palette! We also want­ed to cel­e­brate our stu­dents and the refugee women of Project Feast by includ­ing beloved recipes from their mem­o­ries, their fam­i­lies and their home­lands.

 Can you share a par­tic­u­lar sto­ry from this Project that gave every­one hope?

One of Carrie’s ELL class­es had four­teen boys and only two girls. Hope cer­tain­ly flour­ish­es when a group of ado­les­cent boys, all refugees from dif­fer­ent coun­tries, cul­tures and eth­nic­i­ties, open­ly sup­port and applaud each oth­er for writ­ing poems that are vul­ner­a­ble and emo­tion­al­ly expres­sive. Hope flour­ish­es when they tell us that they’ve found their voic­es and a way to tell their sto­ries through poet­ry. At the project’s con­clu­sion those who wished to apply for a schol­ar­ship were asked to reflect on what they learned from poet­ry. Their replies filled us with hope and in truth, with tears, here are a few short excerpts:

Khai, from Bur­ma

I can speak the truth in the poem I wrote… Poems will make oth­er peo­ple under­stand us (immi­grants). As an immi­grant and a lot of oth­ers who are just like me, we have a vast­ly hard life… One of the ways that we can explain our painful past is only by a POEM, it is the only way to make a con­nec­tion with every­one; poems make us two in one. Poems are vast­ly cru­cial to all of us because poems are ALIVE! There is peace, love, friends, fam­i­ly, and much more in a poem. This is why poems are extreme­ly impor­tant to us (immi­grants) and to every­one who has a heart.

Abdi A.

Abdi A.

Abdi A., from Soma­lia

I was born in a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, and lived there most of my life. Writ­ing poems helped me remem­ber and appre­ci­ate what I have now and also helped non-immi­grants to have a bet­ter under­stand­ing of what is it real­ly like to be a young boy with a hope­less dream of becom­ing a doc­tor. I remem­ber a white man who worked with the IOM ask­ing me what my dream was and I told him I want­ed to be a doc­tor and laughed at myself because I thought it was ridicu­lous and ‘’too big’’ for some­one like me. But here I am today liv­ing a hap­py life and work­ing towards my dream… Poet­ry doesn’t just show us how much we share, it helps us see the world in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent way. When I heard Kang Pu’s poem about how his mom died and the strug­gle that his fam­i­ly had and how the gov­ern­ment didn’t even help, I under­stood him bet­ter… Poet­ry is uni­ver­sal. ELLs can learn about or read poet­ry in their pri­ma­ry lan­guage, help­ing them bridge their worlds… I plan on going to a four-year col­lege and I still have that dream of becom­ing a doc­tor, so I can go back home one day and help the sick and the needy.

Has there been an effort made to repli­cate this project in oth­er high schools around the coun­try?

This is a next step that project co-direc­tor and ELL teacher extra­or­di­naire, Car­rie and I have want­ed and intend to accom­plish. Along with the won­der­ful engage­ment and sage advice of John Fox, founder/director of the Insti­tute for Poet­ic Med­i­cine, (we are proud­ly an IPM Poet­ry Part­ner Project) we intend to take the next step and pub­lish a tem­plate of poet­ry prompts and activ­i­ties along with a col­lec­tion of resource mate­r­i­al for repli­cat­ing this poet­ry project.

WHERE TO BUY OUR TABLE OF MEMORIES

The poems in this book are lus­cious but, to tempt you fur­ther, the recipes includes Doro wet: an Ethiopi­an Chick­en Stew (pgs. 120–121), Arroz con Leche, (pgs. 130–131), Zawng­tah: Burmese Tree Beans with Tilapia (pgs. 136–137), Orange Iraqi Teatime Cake (pgs. 154–155) and many more. Is  your mouth water­ing yet? Every­thing about this book is invit­ing … you will embrace it!

Pub­lish­er, Chatwin Books

Your Local Book­seller

SAMPLE

Kang Pu

Kang Pu

Here’s a sam­ple of one of the heart-touch­ing poems in Our Table of Mem­o­ries:

MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN
Kang Pu, from Bur­ma

When my mom cooked it smelled of sweet win­ter­time cher­ries,
of a soli­tary for­est with rain falling
and it smelled like the mur­mur of a lone­ly bird, singing,
I pic­ture the spher­i­cal smoke ris­ing from her kitchen
it was like the sound of sleep at night,
it was like arriv­ing home safe and sound
the sounds of her kitchen were peace­ful. 

I still long for the laugh­ter of those fam­i­ly meals
we all wait­ed for that table, my mom’s table,
how she pre­pared every fam­i­ly meal,
this is what I still long for,
so often I remem­ber my moth­er
noth­ing can take her mem­o­ry away from me,
it is tru­ly dif­fi­cult that I have depart­ed
from my moth­er­land,
and from my mother’s kitchen.

Kang Pu – MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN
The rea­son I wrote this poem is for mem­o­ries of my mom and her kitchen. It was dif­fi­cult for me to write this poem because I still long for my mother’s kitchen. Some­times it makes it hard for me to study. Yet, no mat­ter how far away from my par­ents, I am still hold­ing their lessons and still using what they taught me. With­out lessons from par­ents it’s hard to be in com­mu­ni­ty with oth­ers and hard to stand on your own.

Nathaly Rosas

Nathaly Rosas

And anoth­er sam­ple:

WHERE FOOD IS ART
Nathaly Rosas, from Mex­i­co

I am from a place where
The food is an art and every bite
Is a spicy piece of our cul­ture.
Where the smells call you to enjoy
And the fla­vors take you to your mem­o­ries.

Read more poems like these on Mer­na Hecht’s web­site.

RESOURCES

Sto­ries of Immi­gra­tion and Cul­ture” poet­ry pod­casts are avail­able here, host­ed by the Jack Straw Cul­tur­al Cen­ter.

Insti­tute for Poet­ic Med­i­cine, found­ed by John Fox, where Mer­na and Sto­ries of Arrival are Poet­ry Part­ners.

Jack Straw Cul­tur­al Cen­ter

Sto­ries of Arrival: Immi­grant Youth Voic­es Poet­ry Project

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Charles Ghigna, Champion of Poetry

Charles Ghigna

Charles Ghigna at Fox Tale Book Shoppe in Wood­stock, GA

Our thanks to author and poet Charles Ghigna (GEEN-yuh) for tak­ing time out from his writ­ing, school vis­its, and con­fer­ence tours to answer these ques­tions which have been knock-knock-knockin’ on my brain since I first began read­ing his many books of poet­ry and, now, a non­fic­tion book about fas­ci­nat­ing ani­mals!  

Do you remem­ber when you first read a poem and it caught your atten­tion?

Mend­ing Wall” by Robert Frost, Fresh­man Eng­lish class.

At what point in your life did you real­ize you want­ed to write poet­ry? For a liv­ing?

I wrote lit­tle rhyming poems and sto­ries in ele­men­tary school and start­ed keep­ing a dai­ly writ­ing jour­nal in high school. Some of my entries were writ­ten as poems. I con­tin­ued writ­ing and keep­ing jour­nals through my col­lege years. When I began teach­ing high school Eng­lish, I had less time to write and my jour­nal entries began appear­ing as short, poet­ic pieces. That was my deli­cious late night writ­ing time— after grad­ing my stu­dents’ papers. 😉 Lat­er, I sub­mit­ted a few of those ear­ly poems and some of them were pub­lished in Harper’s and oth­er mag­a­zines. A few years lat­er, after my son was born, I began writ­ing poems for chil­dren. It was then I began dream­ing of “writ­ing for a liv­ing.”

What kind of poems did you like when you were young?

As a child I liked poems by Robert Louis Steven­son, Wordsworth, Longfel­low, Kipling, and oth­ers.

How do you stay tuned in to the kinds of poems very young chil­dren like?

I’m on the road this month vis­it­ing schools while pro­mot­ing my new Ani­mal Plan­et book. It’s easy to stay tuned in to the kinds of poems the very young like by see­ing so many “children’s faces look­ing up hold­ing won­der like a cup.” 

Score!50 Poems to Motivate and InspireI admire your book Score! 50 Poems to Moti­vate and Inspire. With the empha­sis on growth mind­set in class­rooms, it occurred to me that each of these poems could be used as a black­board or white­board encour­age­ment, a dis­cus­sion starter. The illus­tra­tions are excel­lent exam­ples of graph­ic design—they add even more depth to each poem. As teach­ers work with stu­dents to build graph­ic design skills, this is a men­tor text on sev­er­al lev­els. (In spite of the cov­er, this is not a sports-cen­tric book.)

Vic­ki, thank you so much for ask­ing about my Score! book. That book is near and dear to my heart. It was a true labor of love. I always want­ed to write a book of short quotable poems for young peo­ple to use when they need­ed a lit­tle extra nudge to keep them going toward their dreams. I want­ed to cre­ate a book of poems to inspire and moti­vate. I was thrilled to have Abrams pub­lish that book and even more thrilled to watch it become a pop­u­lar resource for teach­ers, coach­es, and par­ents. I’m hap­py to report the book has been adopt­ed by school sys­tems to use in their char­ac­ter edu­ca­tion pro­grams with prin­ci­pals read­ing a poem a day from it dur­ing their morn­ing announce­ments.

Strange, Unusual, Gross & Cool AnimalsYour newest book, Ani­mal Plan­et Strange, Unusu­al, Gross & Cool Ani­mals, appeals to any kid who’s lived around ani­mals or yearns to wel­come ani­mals in their lives. Do you have ani­mals around you?

Yes, but all my ani­mal friends are free range. I have a hawk who lives in a near­by tree and cir­cles over my tree­house each day to say hel­lo, a mul­ti­tude of squir­rels and chip­munks I watch from my win­dow, and two jew­eled hum­ming­birds who come each day to drink from the feed­er. I would add the menagerie of mon­archs that have been danc­ing out­side my win­dow this sum­mer, but they have since flown far­ther south for the win­ter. My hum­ming­birds will no doubt soon join them on their way south.

This book is a depar­ture from your poetry—how did you come to work on this project?

Yes, this book was a “depar­ture” for me. I wrote a piece for the Bermu­da Onion about how the project came to be. The first para­graph explains how the project got start­ed. 

I had just fin­ished spend­ing near­ly a year writ­ing a six-book ani­mal series for tod­dlers when the phone rang. It was a Time Inc edi­tor in New York ask­ing if I might be inter­est­ed in writ­ing a 128-page book for Ani­mal Plan­et about strange, unusu­al, gross, and cool ani­mals for kids ages 8–12. Sure. And it’s due in nine months. Wait. What? Let me think about it. I’ve writ­ten more than 100 books, but I’ve nev­er writ­ten a big, non­fic­tion, research-based book. I do write a lot about ani­mals though. Most­ly in rhyme. Most­ly for tod­dlers. Sure. What the heck. I can do that. Wait. Did you say nine months?” (read the full essay by Charles here)

Have you always lived in Alaba­ma?

I’ve lived in Alaba­ma for more than 40 years now. I was at Flori­da State Uni­ver­si­ty serv­ing as poet­ry edi­tor of Eng­lish Jour­nal when I received a two-year grant from the Nation­al Coun­cil on the Arts & Human­i­ties to begin the first Poet-in-the-Schools pro­gram for the state of Alaba­ma. I fell in love with this beau­ti­ful state—and with my wife. Peo­ple say to me, “You’re a writer. You could live any­where in the world.” I always smile and say, “Yes, I know. That’s why I live in Alaba­ma.”

Who have your poet­ic men­tors been?

Too many men­tors to name, but my very first poet­ic men­tor was my moth­er. She was the most cre­ative, inspir­ing “kid” I ever knew. She made each day an adven­ture. She had mag­ic in her eyes and she chal­lenged me to dream big—and to fol­low those dreams. I also had a high school Eng­lish teacher who on Fri­days told us to close our books, look out the win­dow, and make up sto­ries and poems. 

Tickle DayHow did you get the name Father Goose?

Many years ago when I first start­ed vis­it­ing schools, stu­dents and teach­ers began call­ing me “Father Goose.” The name stuck. It was a lot eas­i­er to say than Mr. Ghigna—and a lot eas­i­er to spell. The Walt Dis­ney Com­pa­ny sug­gest­ed I use that moniker for one of my first books with them, Tick­le Day: Poems from Father Goose. They cre­at­ed the first image of Father Goose. Since then my oth­er pub­lish­ers and illus­tra­tors have con­tin­ued the tra­di­tion, often includ­ing a goose or two in my books. I’m called Father Goose now more often than my real name!

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Thanksgiving is a Good Time for a Book

Thanks­giv­ing is fast approach­ing, As food is being pre­pared and fam­i­ly gath­ers, as food is being digest­ed and some peo­ple are nap­ping, as sports and shop­ping beck­on, per­haps it’s a good time to take out a stack of Thanks­giv­ing books to read aloud as a fam­i­ly. Here are 11 books that reflect the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day with many dif­fer­ent sto­ries, rang­ing in age from very young to teens … with books adults will enjoy as well. Hap­py Thanks­giv­ing!

1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving  

1621: a New Look at Thanks­giv­ing 
writ­ten by Cather­ine O’Neill Grace
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Children’s Books, 2004

Coun­ter­ing the pre­vail­ing, tra­di­tion­al sto­ry of the first Thanks­giv­ing, with its black-hat­ted, sil­ver-buck­led Pil­grims; blan­ket-clad, be-feath­ered Indi­ans; cran­ber­ry sauce; pump­kin pie; and turkey, this lush­ly illus­trat­ed pho­to-essay presents a more mea­sured, bal­anced, and his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate ver­sion of the three-day har­vest cel­e­bra­tion in 1621.”

 

Bal­loons Over Broad­way:
the True Sto­ry of the Pup­peteer of Macy’s Parade

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Melis­sa Sweet
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2011

Everyone’s a New York­er on Thanks­giv­ing Day, when young and old rise ear­ly to see what giant new bal­loons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanks­giv­ing Day Parade. Who first invent­ed these “upside-down pup­pets”? Meet Tony Sarg, pup­peteer extra­or­di­naire! In bril­liant col­lage illus­tra­tions, Melis­sa Sweet tells the sto­ry of the pup­peteer Tony Sarg, cap­tur­ing his genius, his ded­i­ca­tion, his zest for play, and his long-last­ing gift to America—the inspired heli­um bal­loons that would become the trade­mark of Macy’s Parade.”

Boy in the Black Suit  

Boy in the Black Suit
writ­ten by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum, 2016

A book for old­er chil­dren and adults, Matt’s moth­er has just died and his father isn’t doing well. Matt’s on his own so he gets a job at a funer­al home, where he’s sur­prised by how mov­ing he finds the sto­ries behind these funer­als. When he meets one young woman whose beloved grand­moth­er just died, he goes on his first “date” with her … at the home­less shel­ter where she and her grand­moth­er have always served Thanks­giv­ing din­ner. This is an uplift­ing sto­ry of friend­ship, car­ing, and heal­ing.

Cranberry Thanksgiving  

Cran­ber­ry Thanks­giv­ing
writ­ten by Wende Devlin
illus­trat­ed by Har­ry Devlin
Pur­ple House Press, 2012

First pub­lished in 1971, this beloved favorite shares the sto­ry of Grand­moth­er invit­ing a guest for Thanks­giv­ing din­ner and allow­ing Mag­gie to do the same. “Ask some­one poor or lone­ly,” she always said. Thanks­giv­ing was Grandmother’s favorite day of the year. The cook­ing was done and her famous cran­ber­ry bread was cool­ing on a wood­en board. But she wasn’t hap­py to find out Mag­gie had invit­ed the unsa­vory Mr. Whiskers to din­ner. Would her secret cran­ber­ry bread recipe be safe with him in the house?”

Give Thanks to the Lord  

Give Thanks to the Lord
writ­ten by Kar­ma Wil­son
illus­trat­ed by Amy June Bates
Zon­derkidz, 2013

Cel­e­brate the sea­son in this heart­warm­ing sto­ry that ref­er­ences Psalm 92 in ten­der rhyme from award-win­ning author Kar­ma Wil­son. Told from the point of view of one young mem­ber of an extend­ed fam­i­ly, Give Thanks to the Lord cel­e­brates joy of all kinds, from the arrival of dis­tant rel­a­tives to a cozy house already filled with mer­ri­ment, to apple cider and the deli­cious smells of roast­ing turkey and bak­ing pie.  And just when your mouth is water­ing, sit down and join a thank­ful child in prayer, prais­ing God for ‘food and fun and fam­i­ly, all the won­der­ful things I see.’ ”

Giving Thanks  

Giv­ing Thanks:
Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanks­giv­ing 

writ­ten by Kather­ine Pater­son
illus­trat­ed by Pamela Dal­ton
Chron­i­cle Books, 2013

Kather­ine Paterson’s med­i­ta­tions on what it means to be tru­ly grate­ful and Pamela Dalton’s exquis­ite cut-paper illus­tra­tions are paired with a col­lec­tion of over 50 graces, poems, and praise songs from a wide range of cul­tures, reli­gions, and voic­es. The unique col­lab­o­ra­tion between these two extra­or­di­nary artists flow­ers in this impor­tant and stun­ning­ly beau­ti­ful reflec­tion on the act of giv­ing thanks.”

Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey  

Gra­cias, the Thanks­giv­ing Turkey
writ­ten by Joy Cow­ley
illus­trat­ed by Joe Cepe­da
Harper­Collins, reis­sued in 2006

Miguel’s truck­er father is on the road and Miguel is wor­ried about him mak­ing it home in time for Thanks­giv­ing. But then Papa sends a big wood­en crate with the mes­sage, “Fat­ten this turkey for Thanks­giv­ing. I’ll be home to share it with you.” Miguel names the turkey Gra­cias and takes him for walks in New York City. Adven­tures fol­lows. Miguel wants des­per­ate­ly to save Gra­cias from the Thanks­giv­ing table. Fun and high-spir­it­ed tale.

How Many Days to America?  

How Many Days to Amer­i­ca? a Thanks­giv­ing Sto­ry
writ­ten by Eve Bunting
illus­trat­ed by Beth Peck
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1990

When sol­diers come to their home in the mid­dle of the night, father and moth­er decide they must flee their coun­try for their family’s safe­ty. This is the tale of that jour­ney and their land­ing in Amer­i­ca on the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day, where the fam­i­ly is thank­ful for free­dom and safe­ty.

Squanto's Journey  

Squanto’s Jour­ney: The Sto­ry of the First Thanks­giv­ing 
writ­ten by Joseph Bruchac
illus­trat­ed by Greg Shed
Sil­ver Whis­tle, 2000

In 1620 an Eng­lish ship called the Mayflower land­ed on the shores inhab­it­ed by the Pokanoket peo­ple, and it was Squan­to who wel­comed the new­com­ers and taught them how to sur­vive in the rugged land they called Ply­mouth. He showed them how to plant corn, beans, and squash, and how to hunt and fish. And when a good har­vest was gath­ered in the fall, the two peo­ples feast­ed togeth­er in the spir­it of peace and broth­er­hood.”

Thankful  

Thank­ful
writ­ten by Eileen Spinel­li
illus­trat­ed by Archie Pre­ston
Zon­derkidz, 2016

A book that con­veys “the impor­tance of being thank­ful for every­day bless­ings. Like the gar­den­er thank­ful for every green sprout, and the fire­man, for putting the fire out, read­ers are encour­aged to be thank­ful for the many bless­ings they find in their lives.”

Thanks a Million  

Thanks a Mil­lion
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Cozbi A. Cabr­era
Green­wil­low Books, 2006

A very appro­pri­ate book for your Thanks­giv­ing cel­e­bra­tion, there are six­teen poems that range in form from a haiku to a rebus to a rid­dle, Nik­ki Grimes reminds us how won­der­ful it is to feel thank­ful, and how pow­er­ful a sim­ple “thank you” can be. This book can be used through­out the year as well. In class­rooms, this is a good men­tor text for cre­at­ing poems of thanks and grat­i­tude.

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Word Search: Jazz Day

Jazz DayWere you already a jazz affi­ciona­do? Love groovin’ to the tunes? Or did read­ing Jazz Day: the Mak­ing of a Famous Pho­to­graph by Rox­ane Orgill, with inspired illus­tra­tions by Fran­cis Valle­jo, draw you clos­er to the some­times ener­getic, some­times mel­low, but always riv­et­ing music we call JAZZ? If you love puz­zles and games, we hope you have a good time solv­ing this Word Search. 

Sim­ply use your mouse or touch pad to draw a line over your found words and the pro­gram will mark them off for you. Words can be found for­wards, back­wards, hor­i­zon­tal­ly, ver­ti­cal­ly, and diag­o­nal­ly. As you find a word, it will be high­light­ed on the board and it will dis­ap­pear from the word list.

Have fun!

Hid­den Words

Puz­zle by mypuzzle.org
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Reading Memories

bk_threelittlekittensMem­o­ries of my child­hood are imper­fect. Yours, too?

I don’t remem­ber hav­ing a lot of books as a child. I remem­ber The Poky Lit­tle Pup­py and anoth­er dog book (title unknown) and Three Lit­tle Kit­tens (per­haps a reminder to me to keep track of my mit­tens).

I remem­ber using the school library vora­cious­ly to read books. I had no access to the pub­lic library (too far away) so that school library was my life­line. And our librar­i­an under­stood what I was look­ing for before I did.

But back to the ques­tion of hav­ing books on our shelves. My moth­er had a Dou­ble­day Book Club sub­scrip­tion so a new book arrived each month for the adult read­er in our fam­i­ly. I saw To Kill a Mock­ing­bird, Catch­er in the Rye, The Light in the Piaz­za, and The Sun Also Ris­es added to the shelves, but oth­er than curios­i­ty, I felt no inter­est in those books.

My moth­er also sub­scribed to Reader’s Digest. We had a lot of music in our house in the form of LPs. Some of my favorites were those Read­ers Digest col­lec­tions, clas­sics, folk songs, Broad­way musi­cals. There was always music on the turntable. More impor­tant­ly, Reader’s Digest pub­lished sto­ry col­lec­tions and books for chil­dren.  

Yes­ter­day, I was sort­ing through the three box­es that remain of my child­hood toys and books. We’re down­siz­ing, so the tough deci­sions have to be made. Do I keep my hand pup­pets of Lamb Chop, Char­lie Horse, and Hush Pup­py or let them go?

Reader's Digest Treasury for Young ReadersI know I’ve gone through these box­es since I was a kid but every ten years or so I’m sur­prised all over again by what I played with as a child and cared enough to pack in a box for remem­brance.

I found two Reader’s Digest Trea­suries for Young Read­ers and the three-vol­ume Dou­ble­day Fam­i­ly Trea­sury of Children’s Sto­ries.  My moth­er also sub­scribed to the Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Read­ers. This is how I read Lor­na Doone and Ivan­hoe and Where the Red Fern Grows.

I was star­tled to real­ize that my famil­iar­i­ty with many of the clas­sic poems, sto­ries, and non­fic­tion arti­cles came from these books. I was intro­duced to Dorothy Can­field Fish­er and Eliz­a­beth Janet Gray and Dr. George Wash­ing­ton Carv­er and Jules Verne and The Odyssey and NASA’s work and more than a hun­dred more sto­ries and arti­cles. I’d like to believe that I’m an omniv­o­rous read­er today because of the wide vari­ety I encoun­tered in these books.

The Family Treasury of Children's BooksThere’s a pen­chant for every­thing new right now. Grand­par­ents pick up the lat­est Dora the Explor­er or Where’s Wal­do? book because they’ve heard of them and have a vague sense that kids like them. Or the book­store clerk sug­gests a Calde­cott or New­bery win­ner of recent vin­tage.

This is a plea to remem­ber those clas­sic books: the sto­ries, the folk tales, the fables, the poet­ry. Chil­dren will read a lot that you wouldn’t expect them to read, espe­cial­ly if you give it to them. Those clas­sics pro­vide a com­mon lan­guage for edu­cat­ed peo­ple.

Can’t find some­thing suit­able? Write to your favorite pub­lish­er and sug­gest that they print col­lec­tions of clas­sics, old and new. There are a few books pub­lished in the last 20 years that sort of approach these col­lec­tions pub­lished in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Here are a few:

Story Collections

Per­haps 50 years from now your chil­dren and grand­chil­dren will open their own box of child­hood mem­o­ries, being thank­ful that you gave them such a great gift.

Thanks, Mom. You gave me a gift that has sus­tained me all my life.

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Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer

Charles Gigna

Charles Ghigna (pho­to: Scott Pierce)

This month Charles Ghigna, well-known as the poet Father Goose, offers “Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer.” There is much to pon­der here, no mat­ter what your age might be, but young writ­ers espe­cial­ly will find these words of encour­age­ment to be use­ful and inspi­ra­tional. For exam­ple:

Trust
your instincts
to write.

Ques­tion
your rea­sons
not to.

How many times do you tell your­self you shouldn’t be writ­ing poet­ry? When that’s what you real­ly want to do?

Enjoy these poems and take them to heart: you, too, are a poet.

Do you teach chil­dren to write poet­ry? The stan­zas of “Dear Poet” are short gems that will give you and your stu­dents good ideas for dis­cus­sions.

Charles is a pro­lif­ic poet, pub­lish­ing books for chil­dren, teens, and adults, who lives and writes in Alaba­ma. Here are some of his recent titles.

Charles Ghigna Books

 

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Melissa Sweet

In this inter­view with Melis­sa Sweet, illus­tra­tor of A Riv­er of Words: The Sto­ry of William Car­los Williams, our Book­storm™ this monthwe asked six ques­tions and Melis­sa kind­ly took time from her busy days of vis­it­ing schools and cre­at­ing art.

A River of WordsDo you recall the first time you encoun­tered a William Car­los Williams poem?

My first intro­duc­tion to William Car­los Williams was when I was sev­en years old and went to the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art. I saw a  paint­ing by Williams’s  friend Charles Demuth, based on Williams’s poem “The Great Fig­ure.” I loved both the paint­ing and the poem.

The Great Figure

Do you have a list of Most Favorite Poets? Was William Car­los Williams on that list before you began the research for this book? Is he on that list now?

My short list is Mary Oliv­er, Bil­ly Collins, and, yes, William Car­los Williams is now on that list.

When you begin to illus­trate a book like this, what is your very first step? And what do you do next?

William Carlos Williams prescription padFirst I decide how and where to research. I’m look­ing for clues as to what to draw to inspire the illus­tra­tions. For this book I read biogra­phies about Williams, his poet­ry, and news­pa­per arti­cles about him. It was impor­tant to trav­el to Ruther­ford and Pat­ter­son, NJ, to see where he lived and worked. At the Ruther­ford Pub­lic Library, I saw his bowler hat, his man­u­al type­writer,  and the pre­scrip­tion pads he used as a doc­tor. All those things became inspi­ra­tion for the art. Then, back in the stu­dio, I make a dum­my plac­ing the words on the page and begin to sketch to out the paint­ings or col­lages. Last­ly, I make the final art.

A River of WordsIn the book, we see hand­writ­ten bits of poet­ry in sev­er­al dif­fer­ent styles of hand­writ­ing and we also see type­set scraps of paper as well as intrigu­ing bits of type. Do you cre­ate these by hand? By com­put­er? With friend­ly help?

All my art is cre­at­ed by hand—I don’t use the com­put­er to make the illus­tra­tions. I cut up old books and use let­ter­ing from wher­ev­er I can find it. Incor­po­rat­ing cal­lig­ra­phy and hand–lettering into the art makes the piece more fun and live­ly. A type­set font would look very dif­fer­ent, maybe some­what sta­t­ic. In A Riv­er of Words I recre­at­ed Williams’s hand­writ­ing in places, and hand–lettered his poems with­in the art. The con­tent of the poems became the inspi­ra­tion for what to draw.

A River of WordsAre there entire spreads you pre­pare that don’t make the final cut of the book? When you send the illus­tra­tion in for review by the edi­tor or art direc­tor, do you leave things unglued so they can be moved if request­ed? And what do you use to affix the parts of your col­lage? 

Some­times spreads need to be redone, but rarely. The edi­tor and art direc­tor see the dum­my, but typ­i­cal­ly they don’t see the art in progress, just the final art. It’s dif­fi­cult to plan or sketch a collage–it hap­pens as you go along adding and sub­tract­ing ele­ments to make it work visu­al­ly. (Even I don’t know exact­ly how the art will look in the end!) I use stick glue, white glue, and depend­ing on the mate­ri­als, I might need some­thing strong like epoxy. Kids often ask how my arts gets “in” the book. My work is gen­er­al­ly pho­tographed since there is too much dimen­sion in the pieces to scan them. Those pho­tos are down­loaded to the design­er and the text is added dig­i­tal­ly.

If you had met William Car­los Williams, what ques­tion would you have asked him?

I have two ques­tions: Where was the red wheel­bar­row? What did you think when you first saw it?

illus­tra­tions in this arti­cle are copy­right © Melis­sa Sweet

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Jen Bryant

In this inter­view with Jen Bryant, author of A Riv­er of Words: The Sto­ry of William Car­los Williams, our Book­storm™ this month.

A River of WordsDo you recall the first time you encoun­tered a William Car­los Williams poem?

I was in high school—and it was part of an anthol­o­gy read­ing that we did for Eng­lish class. I had disliked/not understood/ been unmoved by all of the oth­er poems in this assigned read­ing (I recall that the lan­guage in those poems was archa­ic and flow­ery, and the forms very, VERY traditional)—and then—whooosh—like a breath of fresh air, here were a few select­ed W. C. Williams poems, which used lit­tle punc­tu­a­tion, were freeform in struc­ture, and focused on every­day scenes and real life. They were the first poems I enjoyed and felt “wel­comed” into.

Do you have a list of Most Favorite Poets? Was William Car­los Williams on that list before you began the research for this book? Is he on that list now?

He’s def­i­nite­ly on the list—and there are too many oth­ers to name here, so I’ll just start by list­ing a few of them: Emi­ly Dick­in­son, Mary Oliv­er, Yusef Komun­yakaa, Wen­dell Berry, William Stafford, Rita Dove, Marge Pier­cy, Robert Frost, Lucille Clifton, Phillip Levine, Mar­i­lyn Nel­son, Gary Soto, Gal­way Kinell, Eamon Gren­nan, Jane Keny­on … (see? way too many!)

When you turned your man­u­script in to your edi­tor, did you envi­sion how the book might be illus­trat­ed? What do you think when you first saw Melis­sa Sweet’s ideas for illus­trat­ing Williams’ life?

Melis­sa and I did not know each oth­er before Eerd­mans paired us for this book. Gayle Brown, the art direc­tor at EBYR, chose Melis­sa as the illustrator—and I believe that this sin­gle act has influ­enced my writ­ing life ever since! I’d already writ­ten three pic­ture book biogra­phies on cre­ative peo­ple (O’Keeffe, Mes­si­aen, and Moore) and I had nev­er met ANY of those illus­tra­tors. All of their styles were very dis­tinct, very dif­fer­ent from one another’s—so, no, I had no clue what an illus­tra­tor would do with this text. You can just imag­ine my reac­tion when I saw Melissa’s art for this book … I wept with hap­pi­ness. She’s tru­ly amaz­ing.

A River of Words

How did you find infor­ma­tion about this poet’s younger years?

I had to piece scenes togeth­er from many dif­fer­ent sources: fore­words and pref­aces to poet­ry col­lec­tions, a few audio record­ings, an old film, some archival records, etc. The key, though, was to keep the riv­er as the cen­tral image around which the rest of the sto­ry could spin. Once I had made that deci­sion, the rest became a bit eas­i­er.

A River of WordsDid you have to cut much mate­r­i­al from your orig­i­nal con­cept of the book? Did you go through a few revi­sions with the edi­tor or many revi­sions with the edi­tor?

I always pre­fer to give the edi­tors more than they need—then let them give me feed­back on which scenes/stanzas are more com­pelling and which are redun­dant or less com­pelling (and thus can be cut.) Yes, there were on-going revi­sions with this manuscript—but if I recall cor­rect­ly, the orig­i­nal­ly-sub­mit­ted ver­sion was the one that was sent to Melis­sa and she got start­ed from that text. We didn’t make HUGE changes to this sto­ry, but we tweaked word­ing here and there—and then the back mat­ter was added lat­er on.

If you had met William Car­los Williams, what ques­tion would you have asked him?

If you had been able to quit your day-job (as a physi­cian) and could sup­port your fam­i­ly full-time by writ­ing, would you have done that? OR, did your dai­ly rounds—with all kinds of patients and in many dif­fer­ent settings—feed your art so much that you need­ed to do both in order to write well?”

___________________________________________

Jen, thank you for shar­ing your answers with our read­ers. Your style of writ­ing biogra­phies is so unique, and so well researched, that it’s valu­able for us to know more about the process of this book’s cre­ation.

For use with your stu­dents, Jen’s web­site includes a dis­cus­sion guide that you’ll find use­ful as you incor­po­rate this book into your plan­ning.

illus­tra­tions in this arti­cle are copy­right © Melis­sa Sweet

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Treasure Hunt

gemsOne of my favorite road-trip mem­o­ries is “mud-pud­dling” in west­ern North Car­oli­na. We had fol­lowed signs that lured us in with the promise of gem­stones prac­ti­cal­ly free for the tak­ing. The space we wan­dered into looked like a road­side pic­nic area, and seemed ide­al for the kind of lazy after­noon we had in mind. We each pur­chased buck­ets of dirt-cov­ered rocks for a small fee, and then claimed our places along
a bench in front of a trough of run­ning water.

While sun­shine dap­pled the green of the sur­round­ing hills, my best friend and I revert­ed back to one of the great delights of child­hood: muck­ing about. We played in the mud­dy water, wash­ing off our piles of rocks, con­vinced each time that the nat­ur­al beau­ty of a stone was revealed that we had dis­cov­ered a fab­u­lous trea­sure. Could this be a ruby? An emer­ald? A sap­phire?

We left a few hours lat­er with noth­ing more than a pile of pret­ty rocks. But we had found some­thing much more valu­able in our trea­sure hunt than a gem­stone: one per­fect after­noon, reclaimed briefly from a child­hood we’d both left behind long before.

Words are the trea­sures I’ve car­ried for­ward with me from that child­hood; I’ve been col­lect­ing my favorites for most of my life: Col­ly­wob­bles. Lugubri­ous. Gob­bledy­gook. Insou­ciance.

Why not spend a few moments on a per­fect after­noon tak­ing your stu­dents on a lin­guis­tic trea­sure hunt? Ask them to them crack open the dic­tio­nary and write down one or more new word “gems” and their mean­ings. Have them use these new-found words to inspire their own poems, or cre­ate a col­lec­tive class poem by swirling all the words togeth­er.

I’ve made a career out of prov­ing that there are lots of trea­sures to be found when you go muck­ing about amidst
words.

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Bookstorm™: A River of Words

 

Bookmap for A River of Words

A River of WordsAuthor Jen Bryant and illus­tra­tor Melis­sa Sweet have teamed up on a num­ber of pic­ture book biogra­phies about cre­ative artists. We’ve cho­sen to fea­ture their very first col­lab­o­ra­tion dur­ing this month in which poet­ry takes the spot­light. By telling us the true sto­ry about poet William Car­los Williams’ child­hood and grow­ing up, with his clear poet­ry sur­round­ing the pages, they awak­en inter­est in young peo­ple who may think this no-longer-liv­ing, ancient (he was born in 1883 and died in 1963) poet is not with­in reach. They’ll be sur­prised by how his poet­ry will touch them. And he made a career for him­self as a poet while he was being a coun­try doc­tor! What an inter­est­ing fel­low.

We trust you will find this month’s Book­storm use­ful for teach­ing poet­ry, teach­ing writ­ing, units on nature, talk­ing about non­fic­tion and biog­ra­phy … and enjoy­ing the qui­eter moments when read­ing poet­ry is one of life’s plea­sures.

For more infor­ma­tion and dis­cus­sion guides, vis­it Jen Bryant’ web­site.

You can learn more about Melis­sa Sweet, the illus­tra­tor

Downloadables

 

 

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Pic­ture Book Biogra­phies of Poets. From Shake­speare to Woody Guthrie, from Dave the Pot­ter to Pablo Neru­da, you’ll find top-notch biogra­phies of poets with whom kids find con­nec­tion. Sev­er­al of these are excel­lent men­tor texts as well.

Biogra­phies of Poets for Old­er Read­ers. If you’d like to use A Riv­er of Words with old­er grades, we’ve includ­ed a few biogra­phies that pair well. For instance, you’ll find Pablo Neru­da: Poet of the Peo­ple (Mon­i­ca Brown and Julie Paschkis) on the pic­ture book side and Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Dream­er, also about the Chilean poet Pablo Neru­da, for the more com­fort­able read­ers.

Revolv­ing Around William Car­los Williams. We’ve rec­om­mend­ed a biog­ra­phy writ­ten for adults, a col­lec­tion of Mr. Williams’ poems for chil­dren, and a book that was inspired by his poem, “This is Just to Say.”

Kids and Nature. Nature-deficit dis­or­der is on many edu­ca­tors’ minds. William Car­los Williams had a sig­nif­i­cant con­nec­tion to nature. He wrote about it often. We’ve includ­ed books with ter­rif­ic ideas for enthus­ing chil­dren about going out­doors, both unplugged and plugged-in.

Col­lage and Mixed-Media Illus­tra­tions. Do the types of illus­tra­tion con­fuse you? We’ll have an inter­view with Melis­sa Sweet this month that we hope will make you feel more com­fort­able dis­cussing the art in A Riv­er of Words. We’ve sug­gest­ed a few books that also use a mixed media style.

Let us know how you are mak­ing use of this Book­storm™. Share your ideas and any oth­er books you’d add to this Book­storm™.

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The Jungle Book

The Jungle BookThe word exquis­ite once won the game for me while play­ing Pass­word. I have been fond of that word since that time and look for instances where it applies. That is sure­ly the illus­trat­ed edi­tion of The Jun­gle Book, writ­ten by Rud­yard Kipling all of those years ago, and new­ly illus­trat­ed by Nico­la Bay­ley. Can­dlewick pub­lished this edi­tion of the clas­sic sto­ries and their clas­sics are worth col­lect­ing, read­ing, and trea­sur­ing. They should be well-worn on the book­shelves in your home.

I first read The Jun­gle Book when I was ten. I don’t remem­ber any illus­tra­tions in the Reader’s Digest Con­densed Books ver­sion but I remem­ber that this book made a big impres­sion on me. It was so “oth­er.” It was not the world I knew and it was larg­er than the farm dogs and pet cats I observed. It gave me a sense of the world beyond my vision. I believe it can still do that for read­ers today.

Bagheera and Mowgli by Nicola BayleyThe sto­ry of Mowgli and his wolf-pack, of Shere Khan, the tiger who believes Mowgli is his to dis­pose of as he wish­es, of Baloo and Kaa and Bagheera … is as cap­ti­vat­ing now as I remem­ber read­ing it as a child. There is such dig­ni­ty and grace in the words that Kipling wrote, the sto­ries he weaves with fierce­ness and humor and respect, that The Jun­gle Book tran­scends time. Who would not be fas­ci­nat­ed by this sto­ry of a young boy (cub) who is adopt­ed by a wolf pack, grows up believ­ing he is a wolf, and then must re-join the world of man when the ani­mals judge it is time. He lives in the jun­gle, is accus­tomed to the ways of the ani­mal tribes, and this nev­er leaves him, espe­cial­ly in his deal­ing with humans.

Midday Nap by Nicola BayleyThe book is such a treat to read because the visu­al expe­ri­ence is so reward­ing. There are rich­ly-col­ored bor­ders and sump­tu­ous sto­ry-divid­ing pages with pat­terns evoca­tive of India, where The Jun­gle Book takes place. Every spread has some illus­tra­tion it, done in col­ored pen­cil, that set the scene or enhance the sto­ry­telling or give us a glimpse of Mowgli and the ani­mals. The full-page illus­tra­tions are riv­et­ing.

You’ve read before of my fond­ness for “but­ter cov­ers,” dust jack­ets fin­ished with a smooth and tan­gi­bly soft cov­er that invites hold­ing and read­ing. This book has such a cov­er and it is irre­sistible. (I made that term up, by the way. Don’t try Googling it.)

In the “Word” at the begin­ning of the book, Nico­la Bay­ley writes, “I’d been to India and vis­it­ed all sorts of places you wouldn’t nor­mal­ly see, and I went to libraries in Lon­don to find out what the coun­try was like in Kipling’s time.”

In the author’s bio on the jack­et flap, we learn that “Rud­yard Kipling (1865−1936) was born in India and spent his ear­ly child­hood there. He lived a migra­to­ry life: edu­cat­ed in Eng­land, he returned to India in 1882, then met his wife in Lon­don and spent the ear­ly years of their mar­riage in Ver­mont, even­tu­al­ly set­tling in Eng­land. The most famous writer of his time, Rud­yard Kipling was award­ed the Nobel Prize in lit­er­a­ture in 1907, thir­teen years after the pub­li­ca­tion of The Jun­gle Book.” His writ­ing is a look into his world and his time, his expe­ri­ence, his feel­ings about life.

This edi­tion of The Jun­gle Book is exquis­ite. I rec­om­mend it high­ly for your fam­i­ly read-aloud time, for young and old­er. Don’t skip over the poet­ry. Its rhythm and words are part of the expe­ri­ence. It will give you much to dis­cuss and a world to explore.

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Molting Advice

Debra FrasierI just sur­vived the Great Bliz­zard of 2016 from a cab­in atop a moun­tain in west­ern North Car­oli­na. When the snow and wind stopped we emerged into a soft, untouched world. Tall snow-heavy pines. Lay­ers of Blue Ridge moun­tains now white. Silent.

We shov­eled.

Two days lat­er I could final­ly dri­ve down the moun­tain to a friend’s home and there, on the twist­ing creek­side road, two red car­di­nals sud­den­ly crossed in front of my car. Pierc­ing red. An event last­ing no longer than two sec­onds.

I should men­tion that I am cur­rent­ly artis­ti­cal­ly lost. Me, who once gave lec­tures on what to do when lost. I am more than lost. Psy­chi­cal­ly molt­ing, I am the lob­ster who has out­grown a shell and shiv­ers naked behind the coral arch, wait­ing for some­thing dread­ful to hap­pen, or, in more hope­ful moments, the cater­pil­lar turned to mush with absolute­ly no brain to even invent a con­cep­tion of the future. Every assured being amazes me—tree, bird, human—how can any­thing have such strength, bones, shell, wings, pur­pose?

Debra Frasier letter forms

Those two sec­onds of red birds flash­ing mag­ic in front of my car’s first post-bliz­zard trip pierce this mush. But, I argue, what will it pos­si­bly mat­ter if I try to put words to this tiny, tiny, star­tling moment?

Car­di­nals’ wings cross,
quick red threads stitch tree to tree
on snowbed’s white quilt.

Lat­er, THIS quote cross­es my Face­book (oh, inad­e­qua­cy!) feed:

The world is full of mag­ic things
patient­ly wait­ing for our sens­es to grow sharp­er.”  
W.B. Yeats

In the dark the mush tremors slight­ly.

So I try again:

Star­tled red wings cross—
two sud­den car­di­nal threads
stitch­ing winter’s quilt.

Yes. Yeats speaks to ME on Face­book, of all god­for­sak­en places.
Artist wakes artist.

I sud­den­ly real­ize:
This is what we do to form the long buck­et brigade to save each oth­er.

Red flash­es, flick, flick,
Two car­di­nal threads cross-stitch
The slow falling snow.

Debra Frasier Calligraphy

This is the advice I heard deep inside the molt­ing mush: for­get every­thing, every long­ing for mean­ing or con­tri­bu­tion, for rich­es, for applause. Sim­ply do this:

Grow your sens­es sharp­er.

Yeats told me. On Face­book.

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Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming

There is a sil­ly debate tak­ing place about whether adults who read children’s books, includ­ing young adult books, are infan­tile and should have their driver’s licens­es revoked because they’re obvi­ous­ly not mature enough to play dodge ‘em cars on the free­way and text while their two thou­sand pound vehi­cle hur­tles down the road. Grown up, […]

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The Crossover

The Crossover Kwame Alexan­der Houghton Mif­flin Har­court From the moment I began read­ing this poet­ry col­lec­tion, I knew it was a dif­fer­ent type of book because the rhythms, the cadence, were infused with ener­gy and aware­ness. The Crossover is pri­mar­i­ly free verse, with a few hiphop, rhyth­mic poems that change up the action. The nar­ra­tor, […]

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A Time to Dance

A Time to Dance Pad­ma Venka­tra­man Nan­cy Paulsen Books / Pen­guin Put­nam Dis­claimer: I’m a fan of Pad­ma Venkatraman’s books. Each one has charmed me. I know I can always expect a read­ing expe­ri­ence unlike any I’ve had before. Her new book does not dis­ap­point. In A Time to Dance, teenaged Veda has already ded­i­cat­ed […]

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Gifted: Giving Thanks

Giv­ing Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs for Thanks­giv­ing edit­ed and with reflec­tions by Kather­ine Pater­son illus­tra­tions by Pamela Dal­ton Hand­print Books / Chron­i­cle Books, 2013 ISBN: 978−1−4521−1339−5 The sea­son when we focus on giv­ing thanks will quick­ly be here. If you are look­ing for a gift to take to your hosts, to give to […]

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When Thunder Comes

Just in time for the Mar­tin Luther King remem­brance on Mon­day, J. Patrick Lewis has a chal­leng­ing new poet­ry book, When Thun­der Comes: Poems for Civ­il Rights Lead­ers. The title cap­tured my atten­tion and held me: Mr. Lewis is includ­ing me as a civ­il rights leader. Each of us. All of us. By includ­ing his read­ers, […]

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Hitting a Home Run

It’s still April and I’m still feel­ing crazy about base­ball. The first Ron Koertge book I read was Shake­speare Bats Cleanup (pub­lished by Can­dlewick Press in 2006). He tried sev­er­al tricky writ­ing tasks in that book and I fin­ished it with a sense of admi­ra­tion for his skill as a writer. Koertge hit a triple. […]

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Celebrating Earth Day

How did you cel­e­brate? How about your class­room? Your library? Your fam­i­ly? We went to Joyce Sid­man’s pub­li­ca­tion par­ty for Ubiq­ui­tous: Cel­e­brat­ing Nature’s Sur­vivors (Houghton Mif­flin), illus­trat­ed with linoleum block prints by Becky Prange, who lives in Ely, Min­neso­ta, and was trained as a sci­en­tif­ic illus­tra­tor. When Joyce explained how Becky cre­at­ed the amaz­ing time­line […]

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